Friday, April 30, 2010

Gig: Woods

Woods (Real Estate / Easyboy)

The Horseshoe. Sunday, March 14, 2010.

As a chaser to CMW, out for the last of five nights in a row — aie! But this time in more of a regular concert setting. A double header of acts from the Woodsist label, recently on their game with a string of fine releases.

The early opener was one-man band Easyboy, the solo project of Eric Farber (also in Truman Peyote). Starting things off to a pretty vacant house, Farber was set up with a Roland keyb sitting above a shelf full of electronic gear. Although his short set would explore a variety of different sounds, he started off with his best foot forward, his keybs sounding like the introduction to a particularly fiendish level of Zaxxon before his quavery vox kicked in. This was likable stuff, and Farber wasn't rushing his first impression, letting the song slowly unfold for about seven minutes, including extended intro and ending. This seemed promising, but the remaining material couldn't maintain that level.

Playing guitar for the next number accompanied by a stripped-down drum machine wooom-kick beat, the song sounded a bit like, say, a Tall Dwarfs out-take, while the following song used what sounded like a looped Shirelles sample for its backing but never quite attained escape velocity. After that the set never quite held my attention as much. It didn't help matters that Farber has a limited vocal range that he pushed the limits of and that his interaction with the crowd was pretty much non-existent. There are some ideas here, and the first song worked — but on the whole this felt like an undercooked appetizer.

Listen to a track from this set here.

The place filled up surprisingly fast for Real Estate. Which was rather encouraging — I'd fallen in love with the band from the moment I'd first heard them, playing as support to a bigger-buzz headliner that got blown off the stage by the New Jersey quartet. But on that night they were playing to a fairly sparse crowd. Word has apparently gotten around, as on their return they had a full room to play to, even if they were second-billed again. As it would turn out, it was almost like a co-headliner type of gig, and all told Real Estate played just under fifty minutes, about an equal set time as Woods.

Leading off with "Beach Comber", the first track to their excellent self-titled album, it wasn't long into the set before I realized I was enjoying this immensely. The band's unforced, delicious languidness serves them extremely well on stage, and fortunately the crowd seemed prepared to go along for the ride, listening pretty attentively. There were even a few people singing along to "Suburban Beverage"'s refrain of "Budweiser, Sprite, do you feel alright?"

For all the talk lumping Real Estate into whichever lo-fi ghetto you care to name, people miss some of the more obvious touchstones for the bands' gently shimmering guitar interplay. The second song — a new one called "All Out of Tune" brought to mind a version of a flanged-out, later-period Fleetwood Mac, albeit with Lindsay Buckingham riding in the groove than stretching out in a solo. "Art Vandelay" has something of an 80's college rock feel. The band also threw in a cover of Ariel Pink's "My Molly" — discuss amongst yourselves if this reveals something about their musical roots or is just a tip of the hat. Quite a few songs came from beyond their album, such as "Basement" from their Reality EP. Another new one was followed by the closing one-two punch of album standouts "Atlantic City" and "Fake Blues". Entirely satisfying and excellent sounding — one of the best sets of the year.

Listen to a track from this set here.

I wasn't only here for Real Estate. Woods had also impressed the last time I saw 'em, and I'd come to rather enjoy their Songs of Shame album. They're also a fairly unique live experience, with distorted vocal and other effects making each show uniquely muddy in its own little way.

I'm actually glad that I'd been right up front the previous go 'round, or I'd have been driven crazy this time trying to figure out where all the sounds were coming from. I was in about the third row of people from the stage, but even from there I hardly caught a glimpse of G. Lucas Crane, sitting on the floor with his rack of cassettes and effects and generally complicating the sound.

The band led off with psychedelic instrumental "The Creeps" before sliding into the highly tuneful "Blood Dries Darker", which sounds like a second cousin to Neil Young's "Powderfinger" after some peyote and a couple days in the sun.1 I think that the reason that Woods works so well is their leavening of sonic weirdness and catchy tunes, so although Jeremy Earl's warble is usually distorted by design and Crane's tape manipulation and eerie backing vox are undermining the songs' centres, tunes like "To Clean" and "Get Back" still have an resolutely hummable core. The band also slides back and forth with ease from quick, nugget-like campfire songs ("Down This Road", "The Hold") to extended jams ("The Dark") without making either seem out of place. Playing for about the same length of time as Real Estate, Woods' set wasn't quite as impressive but was still really good stuff.

Listen to a track from this set here.

By way of encore, the band re-emerged with the members of Woods to convene as Real Woods, everyone rotating one spot to take over a new instrument for the grand finale cover of Blind Melon's "No Rain", recognizable from the first guitar lick to a huge cheer. The singalong choruses extended into a jam — a weirdly mellow inspiration for some folks to start crowdsurfing. It was mildly goofy but rather good fun. And all told, a really good show.

1 This is from their forthcoming album At Echo Lake, though its been in their live repertoire for a while.

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